Treacherous Weather in the High Peaks

by: Langley Sieve
Caroline Green

“Ding, ding, ding,” the bell rings. “Breakfast,” shouts Tim.

I (Langley) store my last few belongings into my 65 liter bag and groggily make my way to the kitchen. After a quick egg breakfast, we make our way over to Gannett Lodge to pick up the bear barrels that contain food and group gear and which will also eventually fit into our backpacks.

Today, rather than wake up and prepare for class, we are heading out for a seven day, six night backpacking trip in the High Peaks Wilderness of the Adirondacks. Although a break from our day-to-day routine, this trip will count toward our Modern Outdoor Recreation Ethics class, where we learn the skills necessary for responsible outdoor recreation. Our tight-knit group of eight students will be split up into two groups of four, each led by either Kim Covill or Will Madison, our assistant directors. Group 1, consisting of Caroline, Zach, Hope, and Julia, will begin the trip at Elk Lake while Group 2, which includes Langley, Tim, Sophie, and Elsa, will start at Henderson Lake. In the weeks prior, we have created food rations, filled out R.A.D. (route and destination) plans, and outlined our routes meticulously. Both groups plan to follow a trail that will lead to the opposite group’s starting point while collecting new High Peaks along the way.

“Welcome to the top of New York,” Zach Lawrence yells above the jet engine roar of the wind. Caroline’s group has just reached the summit of Mt. Marcy, New York’s tallest mountain at 5,344 feet above sea level. This is no ordinary day to summit, though, for there is a storm blowing through. The exposed rock alpine zone is experiencing high wind, cold pelting rain, and dense fog that blocks the normally visible 360-degree view. Walking fast, yet cautious, we descend the slippery rock face while singing songs such as “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo until we reach the wind-protected tree line. We started our morning with dry boots and clothes but now cannot wait to get back to the Panther Gorge lean-to and get warm in our sleeping bags. This is day 3 of 7, and although we are soaked to the bone, the weather does not dampen our attitudes toward the rest of the trip.

“Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning,” says Will Madison on the morning of the third day. Langley’s group packs their daypacks with water and PB&J tortillas. We are excited for the big day ahead, with ambitious plans to hike both Algonquin and Iroquois. Scrambling up the steep trail, we begin to feel the mountains fight back, and the red warning of the morning sky becomes clear to us. As we gain elevation, the rain and wind becomes gradually heavier until we reach the tree line and all protection is lost. There is no longer a gradual increase in intensity but a ruthless release of weather upon us. Sophie turns to the group and says, “Okay, guys, let’s get to the top and get right back down.” No one questions her. In the high winds and extreme weather, we think of the other group on Marcy and look into the cloud-covered sky, searching for a peak we know is there but cannot see.

Throughout the day, although we hiked in different groups and were separated by mountain tops reaching above 4,000 feet, we did not forget about the other half of our Arcadian clan battling the various conditions of the Adirondacks. Missing their company and wondering about their safety, we continued on our planned routes, but our mutual thoughts kept us close. Although both groups experienced bad weather on two different peaks, we were all excited to see clear skies the next morning.